Overthinking Democratic Faith Outreach

Relying on an interesting post by Diana Butler Bass, Dan wonders here whether the Democratic Party has pulled back on its faith outreach because it’s not quite sure which kind of faithy people to reach out to, and how to reach them.

The answer might be simpler: the White House may have its own (admittedly unspecified) ideas, and the Democratic Party may be yielding to them. I have not heard that there is a hardcore number-crunching operation inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters trying to figure out where all the biblical fundamentalists, moderates, and minimalists are, and how to message them. (That would be giving the party far too much credit, as it has essentially let its faith outreach staff lapse.)

In fact, there’s ample evidence that the Democratic Party still believes that the religious right is critical to putting together bipartisan coalitions on legislation like climate change and immigration. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer was on a conference call with conservative evangelical leaders a couple of weeks ago in which he pleaded with them to prevail upon Senate Republicans to support immigration reform. That may put Republicans in a bind — between the evangelical grass-tops and the immigrant-bashing tea parties — but it also puts Schumer in a potential bind. That bind may be moot, since it seems unlikely that an immigration package would even come under consideration this term. But he has promised gay rights activists same-sex spousal sponsorships, while the National Association of Evangelicals’ Galen Carey has told me Schumer has promised them the opposite, and that they wouldn’t support a bill with such a provision.

That speaks not of organizing or mobilizing biblical moderates or minimalists, but of the realpolitik of putting legislation together. Schumer’s not thinking about the location and belief systems of different religious groups, he’s figuring that evangelicals can prevail on Republicans to get on board with immigration reform, and possibly that he could drive a wedge between two different parts of the Republican base. How that translates into votes at election time remains to be seen, but it seems more like horsetrading than the “authentic” faith-talk that the Democrats fixated on in 2006 and 2008.